Some of the best and most well known businesses started from a kitchen table. Or a sofa, or a spare bedroom.
And it’s not just start-ups that can thrive from home – there are lots of practical reasons why running a business is sometimes best done without being based in business premises.
Working from home isn’t a new concept – but COVID-19 made it a new reality for thousands of people who would previously not have been able to, or have wanted to, give it a go. It’s been as much an eye opener for some established business owners and employers too. The almost overnight change of circumstances which hit the UK in March 2020 means that the chances are, the big business names of the future are starting up right now in people’s houses – maybe yours included!
All of which means that some of the considerations about working from home that might previously have felt like barriers, have been swept away. In this new world of work, we have all had to be more tolerant of the occasional dog bark or doorbell in the background of our phone calls!
More seriously, there are lots of real positives about working from home and the opportunity it creates to build in proper work life balance. But starting a business can be lonely for us all – even in ‘normal’ conditions – so as long as the population has to stick to isolation measures the chances are starting and running your business could never feel more solitary. To make it work well for you in what are likely to be quite unique circumstances, here are a few tips.
1. Work out when you work best
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you have commitments or distractions that prevent you from being able to fully focus throughout ‘normal’ working hours of 9am to 5pm? Are you limited by specific times when the people you need to speak to are available? If all of this feels new then maybe you need to try out some variations in your working pattern before you find out what works for you.
If you are working unconventional hours – mastering email scheduling is your secret weapon. Write your emails whenever you’re working, and schedule them to send at a more conventional time. On the other hand you might be working with someone who has a habit of sending messages at 11pm: remember, they’re working at the time that works for them – they shouldn’t expect a reply then too!
2. Take a coffee break – in company
A typical working day needs a bit of chat and buzz too. This is harder to recreate working from home and even harder for an entrepreneur who may not have a team of staff yet. Social media is an obvious alternative but it can be easy to lose yourself on there for longer than planned! So try to limit your social media time during the working day. You can also connect with people by joining online networking sessions, or just schedule a half hour ‘virtual coffee’ with friends who may be in a similar position. Some emails could be a phone call instead. These coffee break moments are important to clear your mind, take you away from your screen and help with fresh thinking that you can apply when you get back to your work, so as long as you make time for them, there’s no need to feel guilty.
3. Plan your time
You might like to work with detailed timetables or you might like a looser framework just focusing on tasks or priorities for the week. Start your week by reviewing that plan and ensure it’s realistic and achievable. You want to get to the end of the week having advanced your business plans but also knowing that life can and will get in the way!
If you have children who expect your attention – try to plan your working day so that you can take advantage of times they will be fully occupied away from you: nap time, the length of a favourite tv programme or even after they are in bed. Likewise don’t feel bad about whatever time is needed to fully focus on them. Be realistic about what you can achieve so you can end your week knowing you met your objectives rather than added to your to-do list for the following week.
4. Love where you work
Ideally wherever you work should be as pleasant as possible a place to be, but also a place you can fully designate as your workspace – rather than having to move your work things away. It also helps you make a clear separation between ‘work’ time and ‘home’ time. Little touches can help make your workspace a really nice place to be – think pictures and postcards on a pinboard, a pretty plant in a pot, a wall repainted in your favourite colour or a gorgeous new creamy notepad all ready to capture your next big idea.
5. Focus on focused work
When you absolutely have to hunker down and get on with focused work, sometimes that’s when it’s hardest to be doing it from home. The good news is that help is at hand. A set of headphones can help block out noise – some people find that just wearing them is enough, without playing any sound at all. If music or radio is too distracting, try a search for ‘white noise’: clever tuneless sounds that act to cancel out other noise at the same vibration. You can even get ocean sounds or rainfall varieties.
You can also try out the Pomodoro Technique which is based on the theory that we can do our best work when broken into highly focused intervals of just 25 minutes a time. You can get pomodoro timers for your smartphone or just use a good old kitchen timer: it’s actually how the method was first devised!
6. Get dressed up!
Actually – just get dressed! It’s very tempting to wear jammies all day when you’re working at home but NOT working in your PJs – and better still, having a designated, still comfortable, ‘working wardrobe’ – can actually help you create visual and mental boundaries between the working and leisure times of your day. It also ensures you’re ‘zoom-call ready’ for those short notice customer calls.
7. Look after yourself
Just as at any other time – make sure you stay hydrated, have a stock of healthy snacks or nibbles close by to prevent temptation, and get away from your desk for some daily fresh air. In times of isolation that one hour a day for exercise can really refresh you physically and mentally: even a stroll round the local neighbourhood can revive your spirits. Try introducing a five-minute meditation into your daily routine, half an hour for yoga or perhaps some online workouts instead. Your business will be stronger if the boss feels in top form: mind, body and spirit.
There are times when we all need fresh thinking and fresh ideas to keep our own business approach alive. Even the most creative people risk running out of ideas on their own. And sometimes there are just aspects of business, or your own industry, that you just feel you need to know more about. Once again this is where there is a huge and practically unlimited resource online. There’s a TED Talk for just about every topic under the sun, all under 20 minutes long and they all introduce new ideas or challenge us to think differently. Well worth a coffee break! For more specific learning opportunities the Open University offers a range of completely free courses or there are other sites like Udemy for courses in specific skills that you might have to pay for.
9. Find your business buddies
You are not alone. There are people in the same position as you, working solo on bringing their business dreams to life. You’ll come across them as you engage in events, networking, particular websites or social media conversations. Celebrate their own achievements and find those conversations of mutual encouragement. Even online forums can be safe places to share at those times when things do feel a bit more of a struggle. And there are very few struggles that someone else in business hasn’t already faced – and conquered. You may even be able to develop your own online support community – getting together a few people at the same stage, even if their businesses are very different, can be great to make each other accountable and help recognise and celebrate the little wins that get your businesses further every day.
10. Block the barriers
From websites or magazines for high flying entrepreneurs, to rags-to-riches case studies, sometimes even our own families – there can be occasions and conversations that can just leave us feeling a little inadequate or a little less secure of our abilities. Sometimes the biggest barrier is ourselves and especially that terrible word ‘should’ – allowing that inner voice to niggle ‘I “should” be making £xxx in sales by now or ‘I “should” be working 20 hour days’. If this sounds familiar, identify the sources for your potential barriers and block them out or at least limit your risks. Unfollow those social media accounts that promote unrealistic working styles. Move family conversations away from business or block the tweets from those particularly aggressive accounts.
The good news is, in our post COVID-19 world, we’re all learning to be a bit kinder to ourselves and to each other. That’s a world where great businesses, and great business people, can really thrive.